As accounts of sexism rise, women seek empowerment through self-defense courses

  • Written by Katelyn Malloy
  • Published in News
MIND AND BODY - Students of Harmon's class learn empowerment through self-defense, which incorporates not only physical prevention from harm but intervention, response and healing techniques. Stephanie Harmon MIND AND BODY - Students of Harmon's class learn empowerment through self-defense, which incorporates not only physical prevention from harm but intervention, response and healing techniques.

The past two weeks have presented us with some of the most important and shocking news we've seen all year. The topics present in our news cycle post-election are disturbing to many: our uncertain future as a multicultural country, sexism, racial tension, gender violence, morbid statistics, voter suppression, you name it. One topic that’s unarguably on the forefront of discussion is the future of women’s rights in America. Should we expect a change? Is there anything that the anxious women fearing sexist intimidation from members of the “silent majority,” can do?

One local offers her tools and services to those still reeling from the tumultuous social and political events of 2016.

Hustle & Flow, located in Portland's West End, is an innovative and versatile movement studio that offers traditional yoga classes and Buti yoga, a style that incorporates cardio-intensive tribal dance and primal movement. All the classes are instructed by a down-to-earth team of women. The wide array of dance options offers any free spirit a chance to move, sculpt, feel sexy and be challenged. Dancehall hip hop, contemporary hip hop, slow grind and even Brazilian capoeira for kids are all weekly classes at the studio.

On top of all those sweat-inducing, rhythm based workouts, Hustle & Flow also offers a self-defense course. Undoubtedly many women both locally and nationally feel the need to learn these skills in order to feel safe in Trump’s America.

The instructor of the course is Clara Porter, who also serves as the director of Prevention.Action.Change, an organization that combats and educates on harassment, assault and abuse. Porter has taught women self-defense techniques for over twenty years.

Over the past two years, Stephanie Harmon, the owner of Hustle & Flow, and Porter have created a strong shared network between the studio’s mission and Porter’s experience in finding empowerment through self-defense, which incorporates not only physical prevention from harm but intervention, response and healing techniques.

“Women may want to take this class to protect others,” said Harmon. “Because some of us who don't feel as threatened, certainly feel for everyone who does feel that way. One of the things I really love about how Clara runs the workshops is that she does teach the physical aspect, but it's more about empowerment, confidence and boundary setting. I think women don't necessarily think about those things when going to sign up for a self-defense class but it's super important.”

Empowerment self-defense offers women something unique in that it examines the different ways that women diminish themselves verbally and subconsciously.  “Can I ask a question?” or “I just want to say this,” are common phrases women use daily. The women taking these courses work on stripping away those habits and learn the skills needed to be more assertive and to take up more space in the world.

As a nation united we have made great progress in balancing the gender scales to achieve equality. Corporate giants like Google have even gone as far as to declare two workdays in June as “Lady Days.”

But sexism is certainly still present, deeply rooted in society and only recently thrust to the spotlight of media coverage. Some women are in a sheer panic, rushing to get IUD’s before their reproductive rights might be changed or taken away. A poll conducted just a week after election night, discovered that 76% of women actually feel worse about their future career prospects under Trump.

“A good portion of what we teach is really about awareness,” Porter explained. “Awareness of the social context for violence, not just statistics which are also important, but also looking at what the intersection is between racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia within the violence that we and other people experience.”

Porter pushes women to tap into their own warning systems on their own terms, not societies.

“As a white woman, I need to check in with myself and learn internal signals that my body is tense, and I feel myself getting concerned about something,” she said. “But I also need to learn how to put an overlay on that by asking myself 'Is this a real threat?' or 'Am I concerned because I've been trained to be afraid of black men?' And that's very real. There is a responsibility we have as we learn skills to protect ourselves, we need to also understand the context in which we've been conditioned to understand a threat.”

Porter hosts classes monthly inside Hustle & Flow and said that she anticipates an increase in demand for them.

“I know my colleagues in other cities have seen a huge increase immediately in requests for self-defense classes,” she said. “I imagine we'll be seeing that here as well.”

Maine has already begun to experience an increase in violence and harassment towards women post-election. In Lewiston there have been several attacks within the Somali community on city streets and supermarkets, resulting in one woman nearly being run down.

In more densely populated cities, attacks on women, especially Muslim women, have increased. Porter has been working hard to connect with local Muslim organizations and communities locally to learn how she can bring self-defense and empowerment services to their lives.

The “Basic Empowerment Self Defense” course taught local women the rudiments of physical defense against attackers and exploiting built-in instincts to deter dangerous situations.

“A lot of self-defense classes are a whole lot of physical, and a lot of 'never do this, never do that',” said Porter. “There are no 'shoulds,' it's how you assess the situation.”

One student, Karalee Oster, called the intense course, “amazing.”

“It's the first one I have ever attended that was led by women and I feel like this made a tremendous difference,” said Oster “The techniques both verbal and physical were taught in a way that was incredibly empowering. With a solid foundation starting mentally and moving into action, I left really feeling strong and sure.”

The next class at Hustle & Flow with Clara Porter is December 4th. This three-hour class, “Empowerment Self Defense for Adults Level II,” is open to all genders. Register at

Last modified onWednesday, 23 November 2016 13:21